Gordon Crook

NEIL ROWE

Painting, printmaking, papermaking, stage design, tapestry weaving and textile designing are all fields in which Gordon Crook has made his mark since arriving in New Zealand eight years ago from the United Kingdom. Since then he has exhibited regularly: in print exhibitions and painting competitions, as well as group and one-man shows in most main centres. In spite of this involvement in many exhibitions and the wide variety of his interests, his work was not well known until the installation of his brilliantly-coloured, medieval flag-like banners in the Miles Warren-designed New Zealand Embassy in Washington brought him public acclaim.

Gordon Crook's banners at the New Zealand Embassy in Washington

When assessing a talent as multi-faceted as Crook's it is difficult to single out one aspect for consideration above the others. In my opinion his work with textiles and fabrics constitutes his most significant contribution to contemporary art.

He is a textile-designer par excellence who has no peer in this country. After studying art at St Martin's School, London, he learnt textile design at the Central School of Art. He later lectured there on this subject and was acting head of the department before coming to New Zealand in 1972. He has also lectured at the Royal College of Art.

GORDON CROOK The Winner 1978
tapestry

In New Zealand there is no designer in this field who is as highly qualified or as accomplished as Gordon Crook. In terms of colour and design, his tapestries are by far the most consistently exciting work in the medium made here.

Yet it seems that as a textile designer his work is still seldom seen or appreciated. Over the last few years the weaver's craft here has burgeoned and very high standards of technique and handling of materials have been achieved'; but, in the areas of colour and design, in which Crook excels, the over-all standard is still low. Many of our better weavers, not to mention the textile industry itself, would do well to look closely at Gordon Crook's work. Recently he has collaborated with Petone weaver Leslie Nicholls in the production of Crook-designed, Nicholls-woven kelim technique carpets. One of these was exhibited at the New Zealand Academy Handweaving Unlimited exhibition last year and two were hung at Crook's recent print exhibition at the Peter Webb Galleries.

GORDON CROOK Untitled Screenprint 1980
730 x 554 mm. (Peter Webb Galleries / Galerie Legard)

This show, simply entitled New Prints, was an exhibition of fourteen recent screenprint editions and was hung concurrently at Wellington's Galerie Legard. These exhibitions, identical except for the two carpets at Webb's, were virtuoso displays of screenprinting technique. Typically strong in terms of design, the prints combined elements of Pop art with gestural freedom and an idiosyncratic mathematical structure. References to Paolozzi are explicit and Crook's familiarity with the gestation of the Pop art movement, at the Royal College in the early 1960s, is evident.

Based on the mystical significance of the figure five the prints are exercises in an occult and cabbalistic science of numbers which for Gordon Crook, assumes considerable importance in his recent art as much as in his daily life. Each work is a meditation which functions at several levels. I am unable and unqualified to comment on their success or otherwise in this regard. Suffice it for me to say that as examples of the screen printer's craft they are a tour de force.

GORDON CROOK Rug 1980
wool, 1750 x 1110 mm. (Peter Webb Galleries)

As a painter Gordon Crook also has a highly individual approach. However, perhaps because of his activities in so many other media, in this area he has never seemed to find himself. Certainly we have yet to see either the emergence of a mature painting style or a cohesive body of work to match his achievements in other fields.

Crook has been an innovator here in the craft of papermaking. His experiments and exercises in this medium too are stamped with the typical Crook verve and originality. His magnum opus to date is without doubt his most public and publicly celebrated work - the Washington Banners. Made from brightly-dyed appliqu├ęd duck, the 20 x 15 metre double-sided banners are a brilliant solution to a difficult design problem. The heraldic and ceremonial overtones are entirely appropriate to their official diplomatic surroundings and to the architecture of the main hall of the chancery where they are hung.

GORDON CROOK Untitled Screenprint 1980
730 x 554 mm. (Peter Webb Galleries / Galerie Legard)

Perhaps on the strength of the success of the Washington Banners the beleaguered textile industry in this country will realise that artists and designers of the calibre of Gordon Crook will be of immense value in the establishment of a strong indigenous local textile industry.

Originally published in Art New Zealand 16 Winter 1980